When The Laotian Times met with Daomayuly “Dee Sao Lao” Chantilath at Safaa gym in Vientiane, the young but seasoned fighter was in the midst of one of the most notoriously difficult parts of professional martial arts: cutting weight. For Dee’s debut mixed martial arts (MMA) fight she’ll need to weigh in at 48 kilograms, several crucial kilos less than her usual “walking weight” of 53 kilos.
While the lack of food had left her feeling weaker than usual during our interview, the fighter maintained her trademark optimism, and was focused on winning. “Focus is the most important part of fighting,” she said. “Of course boxing is a physical sport, but more than that it’s mental. In the championship fight for the Muay Thai world title in 2019, I felt really sick. I was dizzy and hot and felt like throwing up. But I visualized winning, and it worked. I had thought so much about winning the belt that I actually dreamt about it happening. If you can see something happening in your mind, you can make it happen for real.”
Just because she’s optimistic and believes in the power of positive thinking does not, however, mean that Dee is naive: “MMA is dangerous. You can even die in the octagon,” she said, smiling wryly. But while the risk of fighting might spook others, particularly her own father, Dee is confident that her experience will keep her safe. “You can hurt yourself so many ways in your normal life,” she told me. “I tell my father, ‘yes, fighting is risky, but so is life. You can cut yourself making dinner, you can crash when you’re driving.’ But in the ring, or in the octagon, I trust myself to know when I’m really at risk. MMA can be like a street fight. Anything can happen. Your opponent can even kick you when you’re down. But if something’s really wrong, if it doesn’t feel safe, I know when to stop.” This self-assuredness is well earned: last month Dee entered intensive training at a gym in Bangkok, where she trained for 8 hours a day–rather than her usual 4 hours–6 days a week.
When Dee first took up boxing at 14 she, like many young women, was drawn to the sport by a desire to become fit rather than by a desire to compete. But she found herself falling in love with the sport, and within a few years, she was competing in Kickboxing and fighting for the Lao National Boxing team. “It always challenges me,” she said, “there is always more to learn, and because everyone has a different style, you have to keep learning and keep adjusting.”
Since then Dee, who is now 24, has trained in several martial arts disciplines, from judo to Taekwando to Brazilian jiujitsu. The pandemic was, of course, a difficult time for her: fights were canceled, gyms were closed, and the momentum that Dee had built up from winning her Muay Thai world title seemed to screech to a halt. During that time, she leaned on her community, including her trainer, her family, and her own boxing students. “My trainer, Safaa, is always patient with me. I’m not always happy when I’m training. Sometimes I get frustrated or sad, but he sticks with me. And teaching gave me something to do, and something else to learn, when everything was closed.” During the Covid closures, Dee began teaching boxing students in private classes. “During Covid, I only taught women,” she said. “And it gave me a place to focus more on my skills and to help make other women stronger.”
Dee’s support of other women fighters is at the heart of her own martial arts philosophy. She hopes to see a change in people’s expectations of what it means for a woman to be a fighter. “People assume things about me because I am a fighter. They think I must be LGBTQ, or that I don’t like things most other girls like.” While Dee is supportive of the LGBTQ community, she doesn’t think that it’s right for people to make assumptions about a woman’s gender or sexuality because she’s a fighter. “My first MMA idol was actually Ronda Rousey. I admire her as a fighter, of course, but I like that she’s feminine and strong. I want to live in a world where it’s normal for a man to be a ballet dancer and a woman to be a fighter.” Dee also hopes to show young Lao people that a young woman can be a role model, not only for other young women but for young men, as well. “One of my proudest moments happened in Taekwando when a little boy told me he hoped to fight like me some day.” This desire to be a great fighter who happens to be a woman has helped her become the first Lao Professional MMA fighter of any gender to fight out of Laos (rather than out of the USA).
Dee’s advice to other young Lao people? “If there’s something you want to do, even if people are going to laugh at you for trying, even if you need to leave and go somewhere far away to do it, you should. You can always come back and show others what you’ve learned.”
According to laotiantimes.com